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A 10-Step Overview of the Graphic Design Workflow Process

CopyPress

Published: May 11, 2022

Good graphic designers must manage the content expectations of clients and stakeholders. To do this, they follow specific steps to achieve excellent results. Working through a methodical graphic design workflow process lets them stay on brand. It also aligns messaging for every content piece and campaign. Small teams and non-designers can also use this framework to create quality visual content. In this article, we’re reviewing topics like:

What Is the Graphic Design Workflow Process?

The graphic design workflow process is a list of ordered steps a designer uses to create a piece of content. The steps flow in a specific order to create the best content possible. It should meet the brand’s or client’s end goals. The graphic design workflow process is equal parts creative and professional. The creative side includes things like ideation and sketching. On the professional side, designers do research, problem solve, and revise the final product. The exact process and number of steps may differ by company or designer.

The 10-Step Graphic Design Workflow Process

It’s important to have a graphic design workflow framework. But like most other things in content marketing, yours can be customizable. If this appeals to you, we recommend you add—not delete or reorder—steps from the workflow we explore below. We’ve included the primary steps for every design process. They ensure you’re hitting all key development and collaboration points. Use these steps to build your graphic design workflow process:

1. Build a Creative Brief

The creative brief, also called the design brief, is like an intake survey for each project. Use it for every campaign, whether you’re working with your brand’s content team or a client. This document helps the designer know the exact project specifications for each piece. You can collect information for the brief in two ways. One option is to meet with the team and client yourself. Ask all necessary questions and fill out the form. Doing it this way allows you to ask follow-up questions at the moment. This may provide more information about the project expectations.

Another option is to send a blank design brief document to the content team or client. Relevant stakeholders can fill it out and return it. This option may work best if you’re on a deadline. You may also use it for clients with whom you’ve worked on other projects. With the second option, it’s important to review the information and ask for clarity where you need it.

This step allows you to understand each project. It displays how each piece helps the overall marketing strategy. Download our Content Marketing Pyramid eBook to learn more about how different content types build a brand image. This resource helps you identify the value of content in any marketing strategy. It also gets into the minds of clients to discover what makes them more likely to choose your brand.

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2. Set a Timeline

Use the information from the design brief to set a project timeline. First, review the document and clarify any unclear information with the content team or client. Any changes to the brief could skew that timeline if you don’t address them. Let’s say you’re developing an infographic. Make sure the writing team completes the copy needs before you design. It would be a waste of time to design the whole thing if the information changes before publication.

Give clear windows for the duration of each part of the process. Use data from previous graphic design projects to estimate how long each phase takes. During this step, you can also set deadlines and delivery dates.

3. Research Your Design

The graphic design research phase works the same as it does in other forms of content creation. How much research you do may depend on how specific the client is with the creative brief. Some designers may have more freedom than others to choose elements or topics. During this phase, it’s helpful to focus on areas like:

  • Understanding the use and value of the topic or service you’re promoting
  • Reviewing competitor’s designs
  • Determining the brand’s market positioning
  • Exploring the visual media preferences of your target audience
  • Finding where your target audience consumes content
  • Reviewing graphic art principles and design trends
  • Collecting inspirational content and images

Research allows you to find what’s popular with competitors and your target audience. It also presents ideas you can repurpose—not copy—for your own projects. Look for ideas on websites, social media channels, and products and packaging. You may not use everything you collect during the research phase in the last design. It’s still important to record everything you find useful. This may save you from having to return to the research stage later if you don’t have enough information.

Related: 66 Graphic Design Ideas To Spark Your Creativity

4. Prepare Drafts

tablet on black wood table with black mug to the right; hands over the tablet with drawing pen in left hand going through the graphic design workflow process

Image via Unsplash by @kellysikkema

The drafting phase may differ depending on the type of content you create. Infographics and custom illustrations may involve sketching. Animated videos or interactive media may include storyboards or unpolished demo reels. Drafts should communicate what the team or client asked for in the brief. But it should also be unique from other things you found in your research. The more extensive the project, the more drafts you may have to complete before you move to the next phase.

5. Conduct a Review

Get a team or client review before you move from drafting to the design phase. This allows stakeholders to provide their first thoughts and comments on the drafts. What would happen if you didn’t stop for a review before moving into the thick of the design? You may waste valuable time and effort creating something the client no longer wants. It’s easier to change a draft than to overhaul a finished design. You may repeat this review process many times before moving to the design stage.

6. Create the Design

Take everything you’ve learned from research and feedback and start the polished design. Use graphic design principles and technical skills to create the best-looking visual. Make sure you can share the finished product in the desired file format. Like a writer does a self-edit on a piece before submission, a designer can do a self-critique. Look your piece over before submitting it for final feedback and approval.

Related: How to Use Visual Principles for Page Design

7. Collect Feedback

Graphic designs go through another round of team or client feedback before finalization. This is to make sure the creation meets the stakeholders’ visions. Like the feedback following the drafts stage, this step may take many cycles. Often, the designer submits the piece to the right stakeholder to review. Then they make requested changes before submitting it again. This process continues until the stakeholders finish their change requests.

8. Complete the Design

This step might sound official, even daunting. But completing the design is a simple process. Save a finished copy as the correct file format for delivery. Create a backup of the workable design document and the finished copy. Store them in two or more places, like on your device and a shared drive.

Keeping the workable document lets you go back and make more changes later. What if your team wants to update an infographic every year? Then you won’t have to start from scratch each time. Duplicating the finished copy lets you have a backup in case of accidental deletion.

9. Deliver the Content

Send the design to your team or client based on the instructions from the creative brief. The type of project may influence how you share it. For example, infographics or custom illustrations may come in photo or PDF formats. You can share them on a drive or send them through email. Dynamic content, like interactive media, may have a larger file size. You may have to deliver it in pieces, or on a hard disc. Some clients may request that your agency publish or upload the content for them.

10. Review Your Process

Review each project following delivery. Did you have enough time for each phase? Were there more revisions than expected? Could you add extra questions to your brief document to make things clearer? Another thing to consider is client or team satisfaction. Were they happy with the outcome? Why or why not? Reviewing and recording this information at the end of each project helps you prepare more thoroughly for the next.

Tips and Best Practices for Using the Graphic Design Workflow Process

Use these tips throughout the design process to prepare for each step:

Use a Brief Template

Develop a template for your design brief. This can help you ask all the right questions during the planning stage. You may develop your own the first time you use a brief. Save a blank copy to your drive to use for each new client or project. You can also use premade templates from sources around the internet. Resources like Smartsheet or TemplateLab offer free downloads. A template can help you feel more prepared when doing a kickoff interview with the client or project team. It can also guide someone step-by-step to fill it out themselves.

Collect the Right Brief Information

The design brief is thorough. Make sure you’re asking for all the right information before you start the project. This includes:

  • Basic company information, like service offerings and the unique value proposition
  • Brand style guidelines
  • Target audience definition or segments
  • List of related competitors
  • Content types, like an eBook design or infographic
  • Definition of how the content piece fits in the larger marketing strategy
  • Specific piece goals
  • Design concept ideas or creative direction
  • Specific design specifications, like colors or symbols
  • Call-to-action, or what the content should encourage the audience to do
  • Examples of work the team or client likes
  • Delivery format and file type
  • Anticipated project timeline with trackable milestones
  • Budget figures

Create a Schedule

Develop a schedule for your timeline. This allows you to see when and where to complete each phase visually. A schedule can help you stay on track to meet your deadline. Calendar programs like Google Calendar or CoSchedule allow you to do this. Set different colors for each phase of the workflow. You can also set reminders and notifications for upcoming deadlines.

Collect the Right Tools

No matter your experience level, there are tools to help with every project. Most come with tutorials, templates, and customer support. These features make the design process easier. Examples of tools to add to your stack include:

  • Adobe Creative Cloud: A suite of professional graphic design products for static and dynamic media
  • Canva: A web and print graphic design and video editing program
  • Ceros: A code-free interactive content development program
  • Chili Publish: A digital artwork generator and graphics converter
  • Design Huddle: An embeddable video and graphic design program
  • Filestage: A content review process management program
  • Issuu: A designer content creation and distribution software platform
  • Maglr: a digital publication development program

Prepare Drafts in Threes

Create your design pitches in batches of three. Provide one that’s exactly what the team or client requested in the brief. Include another that’s your interpretation of the project specifics. Add a third that’s unique. One that goes in a different direction but still meets the brief specifications. Having many options gives stakeholders a choice of ideas. You can further refine their pick to make a full mockup or wireframe.

Create a Mood Board

Develop a mood board from the design ideas you collect during research. This collage incorporates different visual elements to guide the design process. You can add images, text, colors, fonts, and even textures. There is no right or wrong way to create a mood board. Unlike the workflow process, there isn’t one standard design template. You may make your mood board collaborative. Invite clients or content team members to contribute digitally or create their own. This provides a better idea of their content expectations.

Related: 33 Creative Ideas To Enhance Your Graphic Designs

Conduct 10/50/99 Reviews

We’ve included review phases in the workflow above. But, you can also choose to add more or rearrange the review stages to reflect the 10/50/99 breakdown. This strategy uses three specific times to review your content and collect feedback. They include:

  • 10% complete: The design is in the outline, draft, or wireframe stage. Ask for feedback about the direction of the work or clarification of the vision.
  • 50% complete: The actual design is halfway completed. Feedback gives you an idea of if you’re meeting expectations for the finished product.
  • 99% complete: The design is nearly complete, except for small tweaks. Ask for feedback about minor details, like spacing or font size.

Reviewing at these stages provides feedback at the most critical points. They serve as gateways to the next big phase of each project.

Provide Feedback Guidance

Your review cycles are only as good as the feedback you receive. Sometimes it may be difficult for clients to share what they like or don’t like about a piece. Designers can help guide them through the feedback process with an outline. To create feedback guidelines, review good advice you’ve received in the past. What made it helpful? Did it provide actionable or concrete tips? Who provided the feedback?

Consider what type of feedback is most helpful in each review phase and who provides it. You may even develop a feedback template that asks specific questions. You can distribute this to your team or client to guide their answers.

Develop a File Naming System

You may make many changes during review cycles. You may not want to save over previous versions in case you need to come back to them later. Develop a file naming system and folder structure for your shared drive. This helps you find the right version of a design document easily. Some pointers for developing a system that works include:

  • Creating a new folder for each project or client account
  • Creating subfolders for each design deliverable, such as a custom illustration or eBook
  • Include the project name, workflow stage, and version number in each file name
  • Capitalize each important word in the project name
  • Use underscores between each segment for easier readability
    • For example, a Photoshop document for a resource article infographic may look like this: ResourceArticleInfographic_R2_V3.psd.

Work With the Professionals

What happens if you have a task too big for your content team? Or your agency has client with niche content needs? CopyPress offers content that can help support and drive any graphic design process you may have in place. After all, graphics and copy go together to create cohesive content that captures the attention of your target audience. To get started, schedule a call with CopyPress today!

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